Board sets ferry fees, but tick­ets may cost less

The News & Observer - - Triangle & N.c. - — STAFFWRITER RICHARD STRADLING

It will even­tu­ally cost as­much as $15 round-trip to ride the new pas­sen­ger ferry be­tween Hat­teras and Ocra­coke is­lands, but state of­fi­cials say they plan to charge less than that when the ser­vice starts this spring.

The N.C. Board of Trans­porta­tion on Thurs­day ap­proved rates for theM/V Ocra­coke Ex­press, the first pas­sen­ger-only ferry in the state sys­tem. They range from as lit­tle as $5 for a round-trip dur­ing non-peak times out­side the sum­mer months to $15 round-trip dur­ing prime hours be­tween Memo­rial Day and La­bor Day.

But those are the max­i­mum prices the state ex­pects to charge for the 70-minute ride be­tween the Hat­teras Is­land ferry ter­mi­nal and a new ferry dock at Sil­ver Lake in Ocra­coke vil­lage, said Julie White, the N.C. Depart­ment of Trans­porta- tion’s deputy sec­re­tary for mul­ti­modal trans­porta­tion.

“It will be lower un­til we can build up rid­er­ship,” White said, adding that the ex­act rates haven’t been set yet. NCDOT ex­pects the ferry to make its in­au­gu­ral run on May 14.

The three daily round-trips for the Ocra­coke Ex­press will com­pete with the car ferry that runs as many as 36 times a day be­tween the two is­lands be­tween mid-May and mid-Oc­to­ber. There is no charge for that ferry, but dur­ing the sum­mer months the wait to get on can be con­sid­er­able. Shoal­ing in Hat­teras In­let has forced the car fer­ries to take a longer route into Pam­lico Sound, re­duc­ing the num­ber of runs by 20 per­cent.

The pas­sen­ger-only ferry was con­ceived as an al­ter­na­tive that would also re­duce the amount of traf­fic on Ocra­coke. It will run three times a day and seat 98 in­side and 24 out­side, said Jed Dixon, deputy di­rec­tor of NCDOT’s Ferry Divi­sion. There will be racks for bi­cy­cles, and the ferry ticket in­cludes ac­cess to a tram that will cir­cu­late around Ocra­coke Vil­lage.

Dixon told Board of Trans­porta­tion mem­bers that the state will be able to ad­just its rates as de­mand grows, but that of­fer­ing dis­counted prices ini­tially and dur­ing off-peak times will help fill the boat.

“This is the first new route that we’ve opened in decades, so we thought it was im­por­tant to start with a strong fi­nan­cial model that we could build on,” he said.

Pas­sen­ger tick­ets are ex­pected to gen­er­ate about $150,000 this first sea­son; by law that rev­enue goes into a fund to build re­place­ment fer­ries when they’re needed. The Ocra­coke Ex­press is ex­pected to cost about $379,000 to op­er­ate. The ferry will cost about $9.1 mil­lion to get up and run­ning, in­clud­ing ad­di­tional park­ing on Hat­teras and the new dock and pas­sen­ger shel­ter on Ocra­coke.

NCDOT charges to ride fer­ries that are pop­u­lar with tourists, in­clud­ing the South­portFort Fisher route and the two longer fer­ries to Ocra­coke, from Cedar Is­land and Swan Quar­ter. Fer­ries that res­i­dents are more likely to de­pend on for trans­porta­tion, in­clud­ing Hat­teras and those on the Neuse and Pam­lico rivers, are free.

Un­der the rates ap­proved Thurs­day, pas­sen­gers would pay the fol­low­ing for a one-way trip on the Ocra­coke Ex­press:

●Up to $ 7.50 for a peak trip be­tween Memo­rial Day and La­bor Day. Peak trips de­part Hat­teras at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. and Ocra­coke at 3 and 7 p.m.

●Up to $5 for a non-peak trip be­tween Memo­rial Day and La­bor Day. Non-peak trips de­part Hat­teras at 5 p.m. and Ocra­coke at 11 a.m.

Up to $5 for a peak trip and

$2.50 for a non-peak trip be­fore Memo­rial Day or af­ter La­bor Day. Chil­dren un­der 4 ride free. Dixon said it’s not clear yet how long the Ocra­coke Ex­press will run into next fall. Like the cost of a ticket, it will de­pend on de­mand, he said.

Cour­tesy of the NCDOT

The M/V Ocra­coke Ex­press pas­sen­ger ferry is ex­pected to be­gin mak­ing runs be­tween Hat­taras and Ocra­coke is­lands on May 14. The boat is now un­der con­struc­tion at a ship­yard near Swans­boro.

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